I loved this song, by Dore Coller, the first time I heard it. And, I love it just the same more than thirty years later. Let’s hear it for the Cow Bay Cruz Boys!
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St. John’s Most Famous Wooden Boat
Deep in the forbidding interior of Burma, a young British army officer went shopping for teak. The year was 1938 and the soldier was Walter Leslie Runciman. The massive tree trunks were dragged by elephants with chain harnesses to the edge of a deep pit dug in the pithy soil of the steaming jungle. One by one they were rolled into the pit and wrapped in a protective layer of mud. When all the logs were thus interred, the pit was filled in, the site was surveyed and the workmen left.
As the precious wood slowly cured in an age-old process practiced only by Burmese royalty, several events took place. One was World War II. Leslie Runciman proved himself in that bloody conflict and went home to England to join his family. And, the teak, in its cocoon of jungle mud, took on a rich color, a rock hardness and an imperviousness to worms and insects.
The Runciman’s were shipping magnates in the grand style of the British Empire and young Leslie eventually became Lord Runciman, Second Viscount of Doxford, which meant that henceforth he’d be responsible for the salaries and wellbeing of scores of people with bad teeth.
At this same time, a marine architect named Uffa Fox was gaining note in Naval and maritime circles for his innovative boat designs and construction techniques. Fox had built lifeboats for the Royal Air Force in the shape of “punkin seeds”that could be dropped from aircraft to downed pilots in the North Sea. Double-ended and water-tight, it mattered not which end hit the surface first. They were also incredibly strong little craft, having been constructed by gluing together thin layers of wood while alternating the direction of the grain. Fox felt that the canoe stern shape was perfect for the treacherous waters of the English Channel. His construction method became known as “plywood”.
Lord Runciman knew Uffa Fox and owned one of his sailboats, in fact. So, in 1950, he approached his friend with a novel idea: return with him to the jungles of Burma, there to uncover a cache of the finest hardwood in the world and create a yacht that would become a classic. Fox agreed and an expedition was organized that included native bearers, pack elephants and surveyors. What they found, upon arrival at the exact site where a decade earlier the treasure had been buried, surprised them, for the only paved road in ten thousand square miles had been laid over Runciman’s stash.
Only by a Royal Decree and a large cash bribe to the Kralahome, or King’s righthand man, could the roadbed be disturbed, the teak unearthed and the valuable lumber retrieved. After weeks of back-breaking labor the hardwood was placed aboard a steamer and transported to England. A vicious gale of hurricane strength punished the little freighter as it rounded the Horn of Africa, but eventually it arrived in the Solent where it ended up in the yachtyard of Uffa Fox.
Sailing vessel Sandavore was launched in 1952. She was yawl-rigged and 49 feet overall. The teak, that had taken so long to cure, literally glowed under twenty coats of spar varnish.
The double-ended design made her exceptionally friendly to a following sea. The bronze fittings and deck prisms shone proudly as Lord Runciman hosted Queen Elizabeth II and Bonny Prince Charlie on a weekend outing.
Nobody could have predicted the succession of owners, the notable life of that boat, or her eventual loss off the East End of St. John. Who would have thought that a queen, a fellow who would never be king or a movie actor who portrayed a president would all sail aboard Sandavore. Captain Lance Burgo would buy her in Miami and sail her for many years throughout the Caribbean and East Coast Atlantic. And I would crew for him over two remarkable seasons, living aboard in Cruz Bay and making memorable the vacations of many charter guests.
As I learned the finer points of brightwork maintenance, I would nickname her under my breath “Sand-Some-More”. As I sweated and fretted elbow-deep in the bowels of the antique head, I’d be reminded of whose royal buttocks had graced that porcelain throne. And, as I learned to singlehand a large sailboat, I would come to admire the easy manner that was a result of Uffa Fox’s insightful design.
Through Lance I would learn to entertain passengers with amusing and amazing stories; some true, some embellished, some downright fabrications. One such lucky charter guest was Harry Nessler from Buck’s County, Pennsylvania. In his 80’s and nearly blind, Harry would sail on Sandavore every year. He knew his way around by sense of feel and was comforted by her heaviness and lumbering gait through all sea conditions. I would read aloud to him and Lance would describe the natural beauty that surrounded us. Once we explained the mating ritual of a pair of leatherback turtles, that existed only in our imaginations, so graphically that they came alive in Harry’s mind. Because he was sightless, it didn’t matter where we sailed, so we’d let the Aries self-steering device take over.
Once we saved a pair of obese German tourists from drowning off Caneel Bay. It was a wurst case scenario as the current propelled them toward Henley Cay. Sandavore was featured in Alan Alda’s sappy movie The Four Seasons and Lance acted as technical advisor, as well as captain.
Sandavore was a regular entrant in Foxy’s Wooden Boat Race, as well as the Sweethearts of the Caribbean out of West End, Tortola. She met her demise one dark night on Red Rock Point while tacking (too late, it seems) out of Coral Bay. Many pieces of her remain in the flotsam collections of long-time St. John residents. Some may wonder how and why that hunk of teak is so resilient. Now you know.
- Jeff Smith
Stalking the Wild Flister
There’s a song in the cult classic film Pink Flamingos the title and sole lyric of which is “the bird is the word”. It’s not much of a song but it expresses a philosophy that’s shared by flocks of birdwatchers around the world. But, pardon the rhyme, sometimes the bird word heard is absurd. Let me tell you.
One evening I was chatting with a visiting couple from outside DC who were here on a bird-watching vacation. I’ve never considered going anywhere with the sole purpose of looking at birds, but I listened politely as they explained their shared obsession. There are nine thousand kinds of birds flying around and the differences between them, apparently, are great enough to notice. I mean, anybody can tell a pelican from a hummingbird, but did you know that there are two kinds of hummingbird here on St John? That’s right: the Green Throated Carib (Eulampis holosericeus) and the Antillean Crested Hummingbird (Orthorhyncus cristatus). The Carib has the curved beak, if you’re interested.
Anyhow, I’m talking with this couple and they’re telling me about the fabulous birds they’ve spied on their various vacations and the guy says, “Can you believe it, we’ve seen two Lie Flisters right from our deck overlooking Cruz Bay.”Pardon me? “Lie Flisters,” they repeat. Now, I don’t know birds from bats, but I do speak English, so I figure that the Lie Flister is a species of Flister that’s indigenous to St. John. Oh, I instantly invented all kinds of Flisters: the Rocky Mountain Flister, the Red-bellied Flister, the Worm-eating, Horned Flister. Of course, what they were saying was “life listers” as in “belonging on a list of birds we’ve seen for the first time in our lives.” What a birdbrain I am! A North American Dimwit (Yankis stupidus).
I was too embarrassed to ask which two resident birds made their list. They could, however, have been any of several types of birds that are specific to this region. A front-runner is the Lesser Antillean Bullfinch (Loxigilla noctis) which holds the record for staying on St. John the longest without taking a trip to St. Thomas. FORTY YEARS! Yup! You see, they don’t even belong here in the first place, since we’re in the Greater Antilles. This little gray fellow with the red highlights was blown north by a hurricane in the ‘60’s and lived here until just last year when he crossed Pillsbury Sound and appeared at Red Hook. Birdwatchers went nuts.
“Going nuts” is what birdwatchers do when birds do something weird or they see an unusual specimen. Birds displaced by storms, or for other reasons, are called “vagrants”. Birdwatchers really go nuts over vagrants. Then they call the bird hotline and report the event. Sometimes fanatical birdwatchers, called “twitchers” (and I thought that was a speed-freak) will leap in their cars and drive hundreds, even thousands of miles to witness a bizarre bird event. They record their sightings in their journals and, in the case of a first-time sighting, they’ll add the name to their Life List.
The bird-watching couple might never have met a Mangrove Cuckoo (Coccyzus minor) before. They’re very private and tend to keep to themselves, away from people. Or, they might have been visited by a Smooth-billed Ani (Crotophaga ani) which is a kind of black parrot. Even the mourning dove, the Bridled Quail Dove (Geotrygon mystacea), which is seen everywhere around here, would be out of his element in Maryland. Whichever of our indigenous bird neighbors made these people’s Life List doesn’t really matter. Two birdwatchers from DC had a memorable St. John vacation and I added “Life List” to my lexicon.
Theovald Eric Moorehead
Theovald Eric Moorehead was one of St. John’s most notable citizens. He was born the year before Transfer, on November 1, 1916. His father, Edward A. Moorehead was St. John’s sole police officer. His mother, Eugenie Theodora Keating Moorehead, operated the Keating Guesthouse. He was raised in Cruz Bay. He married Genieve Hendricks and together they had a daughter, Theodora.
Throughout his life and various careers, he always remembered the advice and guidance of the older people in his community. His civic and business life reflected a philosophy of hard work, helping others and protection of islanders’ rights and culture.
As a young man, Moorehead was drafted into the United States Army. Over time, two future Governors, King and Farrelly, served in his unit. Moorehead initially intended to make the Army his lifelong career. However, in 1955, machinations by the Federal Government and Laurence Rockefeller prompted him to resign his commission and return to his island home. Plans to condemn the land, relocate the indigenous population and establish the Virgin Islands National Park were being made. As he later said, “I returned to protect my land.” His efforts, coupled with those of his friend, Gilbert Sprauve, led to the defeat of the condemnation movement, though not the National Park. They returned to St. John as local heroes.
Thus started Theovald Moorehead’s long career of public service. He took a job as St. John’s first Customs and Immigration Inspector. He was Assistant to the Island Administrator. He served in the Senate from 1956 until 1972 and was asked to join the First and Third V.I. Constitutional Conventions. The bills he sponsored promoted scholarships, homestead development, Washington representation for the Virgin Islands, and much more.
Meanwhile, he earned a law degree, started a real estate company, opened Mooie’s Bar in Cruz Bay and, with others, established the St. John Corporation, which ran the first regular ferry service to the island. He was fundamental in the conception of two projects that were decades ahead of their time. One was the Enighed Pond Port, which opened in 2006 and the other was the establishment of a marina in Coral Harbor. The marina project also appears to be finally becoming a reality.
Whether as a businessman or as a public official, Moorehead never wavered from the life lessons he learned at an early age. As a member of the Lion’s Club, as a Boy Scout Leader or as a regular parishioner at the Nazareth Lutheran church, he was a tireless advocate for his island and its people. He was dedicated to the idea of Virgin Islands heritage, which he viewed as his peoples’ strength and birthright. He defined heritage as the understanding and respect for St. John Culture.
Theovald Moorehead was born in a simple, self-sufficient time and witnessed the injection of outside influence. He worked his entire life to protect the people and heritage of the island he loved. He passed in 1995 and was survived by his wife and daughter.